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Planned cultural center may get boost of county money

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Local visions of a community cultural center here solidified further this week with the possibility of $100,000 on the horizon.

By MELODY JAMESON

RUSKIN – Local visions of a community cultural center here solidified further this week with the possibility of $100,000 on the horizon.

The potential funds in Hillsborough County’s 2012 fiscal year budget to help initiate such a center in the community’s recently-vacated county fire station were flagged by Commissioner Sandy Murman during a board meeting last week. Ruskin is at the southern end of Murman’s long, narrow Commission District I that borders Tampa Bay.

The funding was erroneously reported elsewhere as tagged for Ruskin’s long-closed and badly-deteriorated theater building in the center of the downtown business district which is privately owned and which is on a lot inadequate for public vehicle parking.

Commissioners, under fire from citizens over quiet multi-million dollar contribution to construction of The Regent, a grand but not very publicly useful edifice in the Brandon area, earmarked $2 million for renovations of historic buildings in Ybor City during related discussions.

At the same time, the board instructed staff to outline a countywide program funded initially with $500,000 for which organizations could apply to renovate other historic sites in the county. Criteria related to applications for the monies are expected for board consideration late in September.

 The firehouse cultural center money, however, is not part of the $2.5 million in renovation funding, Tom Fesler, interim county budget director, emphasized this week.

Rather, he added, the funds are a not-yet-approved item sponsored by Murman which will be subjected to an up or down vote during the commissioners budget meeting Wednesday, July 27, along with all such recommendations made by each of the seven commissioners. That session is scheduled for 9 AM in County Center.

Those commissioner suggestions that are approved and added to the 2012 budget now taking shape also will be subject to public acceptance during the final budget public hearing on September 22, Fesler noted.

Meanwhile, the local group which has been engaged for months in hashing out plans for converting the former fire station at First Avenue and First Street to a cultural activities headquarters, provided a business plan draft to Murman this week, according to Bruce Marsh. Marsh, an artist, former professor on the University of South Florida faculty, strong proponent of Ruskin’s annual Big Draw events and member of the center planning group, described the business design for the cultural center as “a work in progress.”

A $60,000 grant for the center has been pledged by the Community Foundation of Sun City Center and if the $100,000 requested by Murman is included in the next county budget, Marsh said he anticipated the funds would be used first for the substantial interior re-design necessary for functional conversion of the former fire station.

Fesler said that if the cultural center funding is included in the next budget, it probably would be dispersed based on provisions in the final accepted business plan.

The fire station building was vacated several weeks ago when county fire fighters and emergency response personnel moved into the new, larger and more serviceable Station 17 on West College Avenue at 4th Street.

Implementation of plans for use of the old station as a community cultural center would involve turning over control, management and maintenance of the county-owned old fire house property to a community-based entity such as the Ruskin Community Development Foundation. A similar arrangement already exists locally. The foundation currently operates the Camp Bayou outdoor learning center under a recently-renewed, five-year lease agreement with Hillsborough County.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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